Relationship Strength

There have been hundreds and hundreds and hundreds (and another few thousand) of articles about building and maintaining strong relationships. Typically the same rhetoric is involved (trust, communication, social circles, etc.) and the article praises the merits of maintaining these key traits in order to survive the apocalyptic world of separation/break-ups/divorce. While there are some pieces in each of these articles that are based on solid advice, the portion that each article typically lacks is the most important part: the how/why.

Before delving into the topic any further, one other piece must be understood: what makes a relationship good? Simply stated, a good relationship is one where the couple has a strong sense of each of them as individuals, as well as a strong sense of the two of them as one unit. Further, a good relationship is also one wherein the couple shares a feeling of connectedness, of safety and security, and a desire to make the other happy while maintaining the distinct understanding that each person is responsible for their own feelings (an observation that often goes ignored, with significant others blaming themselves for the way their partner feels).

To summarize further, a good relationship is one where two people feel connected to each other, feel safe and secure with each other, and share a desire to make each other happy.

This leads to the question of "how do we form such a relationship?" There are three basic pieces that every successful/strong relationship must possess, otherwise it will not last: trust, commitment, and vulnerability. For the sake of clarity, each of these is defined briefly here:

  • Trust - the feeling and knowledge of relying on another, and knowing that person is honest, caring, and supportive of us.
  • Commitment - the simple understanding that no matter what happens, we are in this together.
  • Vulnerability - the openness and sharing of the genuine, emotional self.

Trust

Building trust, especially when a person's past is full of situations or scenarios where trust has been broken, is perhaps one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Try not to target the big topics exclusively and remember that often the small things accomplish more than they get credit for. For instance, the simple act of calling or texting a significant other when running late, regardless of the reason, lets that person know that you understand their desire to make certain you are safe and that you want to alleviate fear. Taking a moment to send a message during the day letting your significant other know you are thinking of them is too often overlooked as a method of reassurance.

Maintaining boundaries that the two of you agree upon is also vital, such as being alone with a person that your significant other might view as an uncomfortable arrangement or scenario. This one can be tricky depending upon the dynamics of the relationship and the societal norms you and your partner hold, but the idea remains consistent: if it causes unease or uncertainty between you and your significant other, it is not worth placing yourself in the situation. The clichéd examples of being alone with a member of the opposite sex by heterosexual men and women fall into this category. If it is a long-standing friendship in question, talk about it with your significant other and make certain they are comfortable with the relationship before it becomes a source of uncertainty or unease. Understanding commitment, and having that knowledge and security that comes with true commitment, goes a long way toward generating and maintaining trust.

Commitment

All too often commitment is forgotten as a necessary and vital part of forming, maintaining, and enjoying a strong relationship. Marriage is supposed to be our ultimate expression of commitment to another, and yet in today's society it is often ignored or tossed around as a buzz word instead of being an honest and heartfelt decision. To make a commitment, and thereby to be committed to another, means that two people have decided that they will proceed through life from a specific point in time until one or the other is no longer present. In short, "we are in this together, no matter what happens."

To commit to another is not a decision or action to be made lightly, and it is something that should only be broken under the most dire of circumstances (such as an abusive relationship, or a relationship wherein one's life is threatened). Knowing that one has placed their full trust in another, and has chosen to stand with their significant other no matter what happens throughout life, is absolutely necessary for a person to lower their defenses and become vulnerable.

Vulnerability

Vulnerability, like trust, is difficult for many people to willingly pursue (especially if their trust in another was broken at some point in their past), and yet it is perhaps the one aspect of interpersonal relationships that absolutely must be present for a relationship to thrive. This is also the one area that tends to be most difficult for logical thinkers (and from a gender stereotype perspective, males) to understand and accomplish.

Being vulnerable means you are willing to tell your significant other how you feel, without placing blame or deflecting your feelings onto something else. For example, being willing to say "I feel hurt" instead of "You hurt me." In essence, you provide a window for that person to see into your heart and mind in a way that allows the two of you to talk about both of your feelings, and how to go about the pursuit of positive feelings instead of negative ones.

While none of these are exhaustive analyses, they should provide a starting point for being able to build a healthy, strong relationship. To read more about this topic, the following two articles are another good place to begin (and are the articles that prompted this exploration into what is necessary to form a strong, enriching relationship).

Sources For More Reading

The Religion Problem

Introduction

No title really seemed to fit quite perfectly, but the "problem" of religion is as good a title as any for the concept of deciphering the issue with distinguishing between religious beliefs, religious practices, spiritual beliefs, and life philosophies. Many describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious" or "believers in a faith, but disillusioned with the institution." There is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed when a person is forced to contradict themselves in order to describe their belief in something, and that is the "religion problem."

Background

The Advanced English Dictionary defines religion and faith using the same definitions, though faith also encompasses a couple of other definitions not included for religion. How is it, then, that we have grown to use the two as though they can be (and often are) mutually exclusive? Part of the issue lies in the inappropriate use of English in general, as we struggle to find a way to explain concepts that are difficult to grasp or define in everyday language. Part of the issue lies in the use of "religion" in a manner that encompasses more than just what the definition actually entails. Yet another part of the issue lies in trying to categorize everything as either a religion or a philosophy, without accepting that a lot of things are not quite so simple to categorize. Perhaps most concerning of all, though, is the apparent issue that religious institutions have created a divide among those who share their core beliefs.

Core Issue: Manifest Destiny versus Free Will

Most debates surrounding the concept of being spiritual or religious tend to center around the difficulty with believing that our story is written, from birth to death, for us. This debate takes a number of forms, and is further compounded by examinations of nature versus nurture from the scientific realm. Generally speaking, we tend to state that those who classify themselves as religious believe in an all-powerful, all-encompassing deity who controls everything about our lives. Traditionally religious teachings emphasized these aspects of God, rendering those who questioned manifest destiny uncomfortable at best or categorized as outcasts at worst. Those who identified with the concept of being spiritual tend to accept that there is a deity who is responsible for the creation of life, but did not accept the notion of manifest destiny.

Core Issue: Rituals versus Belief

Other debates take a more intimate approach and focus on the personal beliefs and feelings of each person. These debates tend to center around the idea that traditional religious organizations have become burdened with simply going through the motions and no longer try to examine and understand the doctrine associated with their belief. We see this all too often in typical churches, where there is a default structure of service and a message based on nothing but the reading and scholarly interpretation of scripture. Again, those who classify themselves as spiritual tend to question the personal application and interpretation of such teachings, wanting to form an understanding of the writings and their meaning instead of simply accepting what someone tells them is right or wrong. This same debate is seen in discussions regarding morality and ethical behavior; as society grows more aware of other views and attempts to become more open-minded in accepting cultural differences, we also tend to question things that are "preached" instead of "explained."

Personal Journey and Interpretations

While this is certainly not even close to an all-encompassing discussion of the topics, the background above should help understand the observations and thoughts that follow.

I grew up in a traditional baptist church, and over time I explored a number of other environments when I became disillusioned with the traditional teachings and views presented. Eventually I left traditional settings behind and pursued self-study, looking at various religions and philosophies from all around the world in search of something that made sense. During that time I began to accept that I fell into the "spiritual, but not religious" crowd and tried to understand what it was that made me reject the traditional notions of any deity, and I found that the primary issues I could not seem to resolve internally lay in the realm of disagreement with moral and ethical choices throughout life versus the concept of manifest destiny.

I've often used the example of describing two different people to provide a basic idea of this dilemma: person one who lives in a manner that most accept as good and just, trying to help others and live according to the teachings of their faith, and person two who lives in a manner that most would consider vile, doing everything possible to hurt others and satisfy their desire for destruction. Person one commits a single act of violence in defense of a loved one, and feels no remorse and asks no forgiveness. Person two lies on their deathbed and asks for forgiveness, seemingly wanting to right the wrongs they have committed over their lifetime. According to traditional views, person one would be condemned while person two would be saved, and this has always been a point of view I could not accept.

While there are many ways to approach the above example, and a number of ways to justify or explain either side, the point is simply to think about what it truly means to be spiritual or religious. It isn't to attend services at an institution or to preach to others at every opportunity; it isn't to proclaim that one person is right and another person is wrong, and it certainly isn't to judge or condemn another person. The true goal of any religious organization, and therefore the definition of what it should mean to be religious or spiritual, is the acceptance and understanding of a deity and their guidance on how to make the difficult choices we face. To this end it should be fairly obvious that there exists, on many levels, a fundamental problem with religion as we have grown to define it through various institutions.

Social Karma

Karmic justice is often used as an expression of one "getting what they deserve" or "reaping what they sow." More often than not, the phrase is used when one person feels wronged by another and hopes for some sort of vengeance. While understandable how this mentality has proliferated common thought, it is a misguided interpretation at best. Karma is an elegant idea, and is perhaps best summarized in the following excerpt:

The Pali term Karma literally means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical, is regarded as Karma. It covers all that is included in the phrase "thought, word and deed". Generally speaking, all good and bad action constitutes Karma. In its ultimate sense Karma means all moral and immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically deeds, do not constitute Karma, because volition, the most important factor in determining Karma, is absent. (source - http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/karma.htm - Removed direct link due to being flagged for malware by Google.)

This leads to the principle of "social karma," and applies to every interaction between people. While it may seem a bit redundant, the focus for this concept lies in the realm of social interaction, and not other deeds, thoughts, or actions that apply only to the self. This ties in with the previously posted concept of social reciprocity, but takes it a step further. In essence, the idea is to create a space that welcomes others, whether virtual or physical, and conveys the moral and ethical mindset and ideals of the creator of said space.

The challenge becomes simplistic at this point: do you convey an attitude of "people get what they deserve" in your sphere of influence, or do you convey the attitude of "this is how I want the world to be, and so this is how express myself?" In other words, do you look for others to seek you out and join in your endeavors because of your statements and actions, or do you simply state that others will reap the consequences of their statements and actions?

This approach is the way I have attempted to grow a community around each iteration of weblog that I have created. Up until now it has been quite successful. With Renegade Noble I am starting to see an upward trend in people who view the site, but I still haven't broken that magical barrier of silence from most visitors. Honestly, I'm not sure if it is really feasible to create that conversational atmosphere here, but I will not stop trying. It may be that the assorted topics here are too diverse, or that I simply have not hit upon that one topic that really draws someone in to comment. It may be that those who do visit simply read and go about their day, uninterested in the concept of conversation through a blog interface. Regardless of the root cause, I still adhere to the concept described above: I will continue to create a place wherein the expression of ideas, the discussion of topics, and the overall feeling of being able to freely converse is maintained.

I would like to request some feedback as well, especially in an effort to try to break that magical silence:

  • What draws you to Renegade Noble?
  • What topics interest you?
  • What makes you take the time to comment on something?
  • Is the site easy to navigate, and can you find what you are looking for?
  • Is there anything else you would like to say?

Feel free to comment here, or email me, or seek me out on Twitter... all of the assorted ways to contact me can be found at the top and bottom of the site, and hopefully are showing up properly in the RSS feed.